By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
As a therapist, I find it fascinating that parents often tell me that they just want their kids to be happy. In our culture as a whole, we are immensely focused on happiness as well as achievements. I think parents are often surprised when I tell them that these are actually not my first concerns or priorities when it comes to their children and their mental health. Of course, it is nice if people feel happy. However, I prefer that we focus on helping children and teens become resilient, resourceful, kind, compassionate, responsible, and emotionally aware people. I will add on that I hope for all of them that they find success in whatever way they define it.
In my eyes, happiness is the wrong thing to focus on. And achievements are even more wrong. Here’s why…
I have many issues with the focus on happiness but I will try not to bore you with a lengthy description of all of them here! My big issues are as follows. Happiness is not a permanent state. Happiness is not something you can check off on a list of things to do. Happiness is an amazing, but often fleeting, emotional state that is while lovely, not realistic to last very long at all. When we focus so much on helping our kids be happy, I believe that we may forget to teach them that it is entirely okay and needed at times to feel other things. More uncomfortable things like sadness, disappointment, frustration, anger, loneliness. Our enjoyable emotions (like happiness) are the flip sides of the same coins as our less enjoyable emotions (like sadness). One does not exist without the other and the message that any one emotion is most important, skews our perception of all emotions and their role in our lives.
Emotions are so important for us to experience and this includes all of them, not just the pleasant ones. Emotions are cues to our environment and can be extremely useful depending on the situation. For example, your anger might help you recognize you are in a situation in which you are being mistreated or taken advantage of. It might be important to use your anger to help you muster up the courage to leave that situation. If you’ve been taught that the only okay emotion is happy, it might be harder to identify, access, and express that anger as you might naturally repress it and avoid it.
The focus on achievement in our society worries me as well for slightly different reasons. I believe that when we focus too much on achievement and productivity, we give our children the message that their worth and value is in their accomplishments, rather than in who they are as people. While they are performing well, this will work out okay for them. But when that stops or something shifts for them, they will no longer feel that they are worthy people. It is so important that we show our children unconditional love and appreciation just for their existence in our lives. We need to tell them that they matter, no matter what they do or don’t do. Our love should never be contingent on achievement.
As a culture, we all could relate to our emotions and our achievements (or lack thereof) a bit better. I believe that it is incredibly important for parents to work on their own relationship with their emotions and their achievements so that they can work on passing down messages that they want to pass down to their children, rather than unhelpful ones like “the most important thing is to be happy,” or “you are as good as your accomplishments.”
We could pass down more messages like:
If these are not the messages your teen is receiving from you, I invite you to consider how you might communicate these things to them - or call us at Thrive so we can help you and your teen.
At Thrive, we take a positive, client centered approach to therapy that is focused on creating a genuine connection with our clients. If you would like to talk with a Thrive Therapist about yourself, your child, or teen attending therapy, please reach out to us by phone at 858-342-1304.
As always, thanks for reading and comments are always welcome regarding any issues around child or teen psychotherapy services in San Diego by Thrive Therapy Studio.
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"Watch your thoughts,
They become words.
Watch your words,
They become actions.
Watch your actions,
They become habits.
Watch your habits,
They become character;
It becomes your destiny."